Sunday, September 7, 2008

What the Aspiring Author Can Learn from the Business World

Before I left the corporate world to raise my growing family and concentrate on my writing career, I spent nearly twenty years in business. While we writers hate to admit it, writing isn't only about creating; it's also a business. We must perform market research to find the best place to submit our work. We have to pitch our ideas to overburdened, stressed out editors. We must network with other writers and people within the industry. And, we have to know how to promote ourselves to make sure we stand out amongst the thousands of other aspiring authors doing the same thing.

I am fortunate to work with an awesome group of people at Pump Up Your Book Promotion, and if everything our founder, Dorothy is telling me is true, I have a knack for the biz. Dorothy asked me one day how I quickly came up with ideas for a guest article that I wanted from one of our clients who is promoting a business book. I sarcastically replied, "You do remember that I started working when I was 16 and I'm almost 40, right?"

The ideas I gave her seemed like common sense...but maybe they aren't to a lot of people. That got me to thinking, what can the aspiring author learn from the world of business?

Here are five things that I thought of right away:

Number 5: You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.

Well, this one applies to more than just writing, but it applies to the aspiring author in so many ways. Think about the books that you've read. What are some of the adjectives that come to mind: outstanding, fabulous, mediocre, good, atrocious, and god awful. I'm sure there are others, but I want you to think about those books you liked and those you didn't really care for.

What did you like about the book? Were the characters well-developed? Did the hook draw you in right away? Did you stay up late at night reading it until the last page was turned?

Why didn't you care for that book? Were the characters portrayed in an unrealistic light? Were the good guys just too good to be true? Did the villian have no redeeming qualities at all--nothing to make him seem human? Did it take you until page 5 to get hooked into the storyline? Did you pray for the darn thing to end?

You only get once chance to win over a reader. Don't waste it. Make that first impression the best it can be.

But it starts much earlier in the process than with the reader. How about the publisher? Did you polish your manuscript until there wasn't a thing you felt you could improve upon? Did your critique group and editor give it the green light?

Did you pitch it to the right publishing house? You didn't send your romance novel off to a nonfiction publisher in the hopes you can convince him to start a new line, did you? And that query letter--was it your best stuff? Did you keep it brief, but still provide what he asked for? Did you check the query over and again for typos? Did you follow all their guidelines?

Get it right the first time.

Number 4: Listen more than you talk.

This has always been a tough one for me, because I love to talk and I like to provide my opinions. Active listening skills are crucial for an aspiring author. Those skills will allow you to listen to a good critique of your work without defending your position. Active listening will allow you to silently decipher which feedback is valid and will give you the time to fully understand what the person providing constructive feedback is saying. Those skills also make the critiquer feel that you truly value his opinion.

Number 3: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Have you ever pitched a good idea and see it not implemented? I sure have. Did I let that stop me? Hell no! I used appropriate opportunties to pitch my idea again and again. I finally found the right person who thought it was just as good as I did. It was certainly a big thrill to get the recognition I deserved.

As long as you know that the manuscript you've put together is the best it can possibly be, then don't let rejection stop you. Do more market research and query more publishers and/or agents. There is bound to be someone who is as excited about your manuscript as you are.

Quitters never prosper.

Number 2: Build strong, healthy relationships within the industry.

At my last job, I had a real hard time...and it was my own fault. I had just left my position as Office Manager at a local manufacturing firm. I had subordinates and was used to being in charge. I came into an entry level position expecting to control things, just the way I used to. I alienated my co-workers who felt threatened by my ambition. And worse, I blamed them for my troubles.

It would take 18 months before things began to improve. It took me that long to realize I was sabotaging my success. Once I started acting like more of a team player and recognized the talents of those around me, I was able to network easily and be appreciated by my co-workers, my superiors, and others in the department.

The same thing goes for writers. We need to build strong, healthy relationships with other writers, editors, and publishers. Without networking, our struggle is an uphill one on both sides.

Many of the authors who tour with Pump Up Your Book Promotion ask what else they can do to promote their book. I stress the importance of networking. The more people who are impressed with you, the more likely you are to catch someone's eye. This writer always knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone...

See what I mean?

And the most important thing that an aspiring author can learn from the business world is...

Number 1: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." - Eleanor Roosevelt

I can't say it any better than this former First Lady, so I won't even try. I've had bosses who demeaned me because of my sex or my age. I've had superiors who haven't liked me because of what I stood for. I've had co-workers who disliked me for reasons I never even knew. But in the end, if I knew what I was doing was my best work, I was okay.

The same logic can be applied to aspiring authors. I've read some of the rejection letters my fellow writers have gotten and there are times I want to shoot back an email to the editor asking him what crawled up his butt. I've also read some heavy-handed, overly harsh critiques from writing groups.

Writing isn't for the faint of heart. I think we all know this going in. But, don't our own feelings of self-doubt and anxiety fill up enough of our time without us being made to feel like someone else thinks we stink?

There is only one way to deal with tough rejections and critiques. Walk away from them for a few days. Then approach them with a fresh set of eyes and a prepared heart. Can you find something useful to take out of them? Probably. Maybe your characters were as flat as a cardboard cut out. Perhaps the point of view is as shallow as the trickle of water running through an almost dry stream.

That doesn't mean you can't take that feedback and improve your manuscript before you send it out again.

I know I've concentrated on aspiring authors but any writer can put these five points to good use. The business world is ripe with ideas that writers and aspiring authors can use to make the business side of a writing career almost as enjoyable as the creative side.

Good luck and keep writing!

This post originally appeared at my old Aspiring Author blog on 3/29/08.

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